Thursday, June 17, 2010

Indicted for Blogging?

The local political blogs are (can't really say "atwitter" any more) but interested in an apparent investigation of the left blogger Chris Liebenthal by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office. The investigation may have been undertaken in response to a complaint by Citizens for Responsible Government suggesting that Liebenthal, who works for Milwaukee County, has been blogging on government time.

It's not clear that this is true. It may well be that the examples that CRG has made public were posted on days that Liebenthal was on furlough or had a paid day off. CRG looks sloppy on this, although it is possible that there are other examples or that there is a question whether the posts were actually written at the time they posted. (That may be why the DA wants to look at this computer.)

But here's my point. I don't know that this is worth the DA's time. I understand that one may be able to make political blogging on government time fit into an extant criminal statute, but I don't think we ought to. If Liebenthal blogged on company time (and I am not suggesting that he did or that the public evidence suggests that he did), it ought to be a personnel matter.

I thought that about the caucus scandal. I think it about this.

Of course, there is a distinction between this and the caucus scandal. Unlike legislative caucus employees, Liebenthal does not work for legislators who are inextricably involved in politics. But, in the absence of evidence, that some one has turned whatever department he works in into a political operation, I just don't see this as something warranting treatment as a crime.

And maybe the DA will agree.

But Liebenthal ought not to be surprised that some people are happy at his troubles. You play nasty (and he does), you make enemies.

UPDATE: CRG lists additional dates.

18 comments:

arod said...

I'm not going to weigh in on whether the DA should be investing precious resources into this, but I will say this much, Chris would be quite naive to think this couldn't happen to him. Chris is the most prolific blogger in the state, and the sheer volume of his posting has political consequences whether warranted or not.

Given the fact that Chris spends 80% of his posting attacking his own boss, given the fact that his blogs are so prolific, and given the fact that he created a non-profit organization for the sole purpose to wage a negative campaign against Scott Walker, it should be no surprise that the county will not overlook his transgression. And I can say with a high level of confidence that Chris was posting on county time while using a public computer. In fact, word on the street is that Chris' computer was the only computer in his department that had the tracking "cookies" turned off. This is a red flag.

Nick said...

Although he shouldn't be surprised, if the evidence is as flimsy as it seems to potentially be... ie - it was obvious that all the supposed activities took place on furlough days - then the DA and or members of CRG should be heavily investigated.

If that is the case, then this would be an example of a using a prosecution to silence someone simply because you don't like their opinions, which is chilling indeed.

John Foust said...

ARod, are you competing for the Standard Contradictory Disclaimer™? Did you just say "in fact" and "word on the street" in the same sentence with some sense of authority? Are you just repeating gossip, and non-sensical gossip at that? Turning off cookies would do nothing in this situation. Go ahead, explain to me what that would do. I'd be surprised if County IT would even allow employees to have that sort of control. "High level of confidence"? Based on what? "No surprise"? And did you not even read the Professah's post? I think he's against the chilling and undesirable effect of allowing government managers to bring down retribution because of someone's expressed political opinions.

arod said...

Foust,

You want to play semantics? Okay.

Let's start with the fact that I'm not repeating gossip. Gossip is defined as a "conversation about the personal details of other people's lives." And blogging is a public matter.

And second, if it were considered gossip, it wouldn't be nonsensical, which by the way doesn't have a hyphen in it.

Nonsensical is defined as "having no sense or meaning." What I've repeated has bearing on a relevant issue that may have federal implications. And given the fact that just recently, we had the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breathing down Wink's neck about posting while on county time, it's likely to be news worthy.

John Foust said...

I'm asking for facts, Aaron, not tapdancing. You are making assertions about Capper's computer. Can you provide any evidence of this, that a reasonable person could believe or verify? You also claim that disabling cookies would somehow cover his tracks. How so?

When confronted, Darlene Wink resigned. By some concidence, ScottForGov.com hasn't been updated since.

Federal implications? Really? Show me chapter-and-verse.

Anonymous said...

arod's got diddly squat.

arod said...

Foust,

I would love to tell you why I have a high level of confidence that he was posting on county time, but you'll just have to wait until the DA releases their findings. Let's just say that Capper isn't proclaiming his innocence.

John Foust said...

OK, ARod, you can play coy on why you say you know something. If true, the D.A.'s office is a bit leaky.

That leaves your assertions about why disabled cookies mean squat, and that there's a Federal violation in this. I'm eager to read your response.

George Mitchell said...

In the big scheme of things, whether or not Capper blogged on "county time" is no big deal. And, notwithstanding Dan Bice, it is not a big issue that a Walker staffer posted some comments in support of her boss.

arod said...

By federal implications, I'm referring to the Hatch Act that forbids any "political activity" by city, state, or federal employees. And since the Hatch Act was promulgated by the U.S. Congress, that makes it a federal issue.

The questions is, does blogging about political matters qualify as "political activity"? Off the cuff, I would say no. But publishing material on a non-profit whose constitution is inherently political might be deemed "political activity."

The disabled cookies is merely a red flag to IT guys. Perhaps they saw something additional that they provided to the DA, and then the DA considered a worthy issue to investigate.

Anonymous said...

Arod knows not of what he speaks. The Hatch Act applies to federal employees; it has no relevance to state or local employees.

If it did apply to state employees, there isn't a Madison capitol staffer on either side of the aisle that wouldn't be in violation, since they all take time off and work on evenings and weekends for the reelection of their bosses.

No problem with this activity, as long as it isn't on the state's meter and as long as it isn't done on state equipment. (That's the problem that former Senators Chvala and Burke and former Representatives Jensen and Foti had.)

Nice try Arod. But you don't know what the hell you are talking about, apparently.

John Foust said...

Well, I'm an IT guy, and I'd be surprised if the County IT hadn't locked down employee computers to prevent them from changing that, because they wouldn't want the tech support calls from people who discovered that many web sites don't work when cookies are off. You seem to imply that disabling cookies somehow covers your tracks. I say it doesn't. Can you support what you are asserting, or are you just mindlessly repeating gossip?

As I understand it, the Hatch Act applies primarily to Federal employees, and might extend to some state or local workers whose positions are primarily paid with Federal funds. You say that's the case for Capper?

arod said...

Anon,

The Hatch Act originally applied to Federal Employees. But it was extended to state and local governments regardless of local funding. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatch_Act_of_1939#Current_restrictions

For clarification purposes, state and city workers may participate in campaigns or political activity as long as it's not on the job. In other words, if Capper walked into work with a Tom Barrett pin on his shirt, he would be in violation of the Hatch Act.

You might want to verify your statements before you make the assertion I don't know "what the hell" I'm talking about.

John Foust said...

Your Wikipedia article says "The Hatch Act also applies by extension to certain employees of state and local governments whose positions are primarily paid for by federal funds."

You might want to examine the State's interpretation.

Anonymous said...

Again, Arod, you don't know what the hell you are talking about. Your Wikipedia serach isn't cutting is, as Foust demonstrated.

You are backpeddling, and not very effectively.

Why don't you just "man up" and admit you are wrong?

arod said...

Foust,

The Hatch Act applies to all state employees, except elected politicians, that participate in programs either partially and fully funded by the federal government. http://www.jobs.sc.gov/OHR/employer/OHR-hatch-act.phtm

And since all governments take money from the federal government in some form or another, the Hatch Act would apply to employees of Milwaukee County.

John Foust said...

I point to a Wisconsin guide. You point to a South Carolina guide.

Are you also ready to assert that Capper's expressed forms of speech qualify as prohibited under the Hatch Act?

Rick Esenberg said...

Gentlemen, please. We would have to know more about what a county employee does to be able to say whether the Hatch Act applies and, even if it doesn't, political activity on state owned property is not permitted under state law.